Chris Brown vs Jenny Johnson - Who’s The Victim?
There is a popular joke format on Twitter in which the writer trolls celebrities by cheekily responding to their tweets with sarcasm. Done when deserved and with comedic timing, it can be quite funny, say for example this widely circulated response from Ray J to Kim Kardashian, who share a somewhat dubious past:
However there comes a point when we have to question if these “jokes” are creeping into the realm of cyber-bullying, which is the use of the internet “to harm other people in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner” (Wikipedia).
This technique is most popular against two particular targets, Chris Brown and the above mentioned Kim Kardashian. Early on in my online postings, I too jumped on the bandwagon; to my chagrin, my most popular image to date is STILL this, released right after Kim Kardashian’s divorce and in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street protests. However, I discovered that as a comedic meme, repeatedly insulting people for the same thing is rather one dimensional — Chris Brown beat a woman brutally, and Kim Kardashian is a vapid rich girl who neither creates nor contributes anything. Chris Brown = horrible and Kim Kardashian = shallow. We get it. However that doesn’t stop posts along the lines of:
from spawning literally thousands of tweets and images, and most recently a rather nasty feud between Jenny Johnson and Chris Brown which resulted in him removing his Twitter account. From Johnson’s interview in Paper Mag:
You have a few different celebrities that you seem to go after more than others, including Chris Brown and Kim Kardashian. What’s your online relationship with them like? Do they ever respond to your tweets?
I’m not a fan of Chris Brown’s for obvious reasons. Hello, he beat up a girl. And he was so unapologetic about it and then continued to do things that were inappropriate — like throwing chairs or saying homophobic things to nightclub bouncers. He keeps telling people to “get over it.” How do you get over it? Seriously? I saw [a tweet to Brown] that said something like, “Why don’t I beat the shit out of your mother and then three years later we’ll just forget about it.” I didn’t write that but I thought it was really funny.
Recently, Chris Brown responded to an insult of hers, and the result has been well documented. To nobody’s surprise, he responded with raw visceral anger, and she made no qualms about returning fire. The exchange was ugly and immature, and concluded with Brown’s disappearance from Twitter. Much of the Twitterverse reacted with accolades that she had “run Chris Brown off Twitter”, and that she had “won the Internet.” However, such praise is misguided, and rewards cyber-bullying.
As an aside, I do not like Chris Brown. I believe he committed a despicable act for which he has remained unapologetic, and has acted arrogant and spoiled ever since, tweeting such gems as “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF!”. I believe his music is overproduced auto-tuned pap, and I was aghast when he began proudly displaying a tattoo reminiscent of a battered woman on his neck. I too have made jokes on Twitter at his expense:
However — and I could be wrong and setting myself up as a hypocrite — I believe that jokes such as this are more in the harmless, amusing wordplay category, and don’t really constitute an attack the way publicly calling someone a piece of sh** does. And I believe that repeated, insulting posts designed to harm someone are wrong, even if that person is someone you hate.
And here’s where it gets problematic. Recent articles like this one in the Huffington Post use incendiary language to label Brown’s response as a “vulgar attack” while merely labeling Johnson as a “comedy writer”. As awful as Brown’s acts have been, he is still a person. There is a conception that celebrities can handle whatever insults get tossed their way, however our brains are not wired that way. From personal experience, I can say that after receiving 30 compliments and 1 insult, I will dwell on the insult. Having 11 hundred, 11 thousand, or 11 million followers does not insulate someone from being hurt. What was Johnson’s goal? What if Chris Brown, after receiving a steady stream of insults and bullying by her followers, had killed himself? Would we then be clamoring to elect Johnson as the new queen of Twitter? Both Jimmy Kimmel and The Oatmeal did an excellent job covering this phenomenon.
It would almost seem like calling oneself a “comedy writer” is carte blanche to say whatever you want about someone under the pretext that it’s “just a joke”. Is calling someone a “piece of sh**” unprovoked justifiable as comedy?
It goes deeper than that. On Johnson’s Favstar page, a site that aggregates a user’s most shared and favorited tweets, 11 of her 20 most popular writings involve insults against either Chris Brown or Kim Kardashian.
Critics of Brown insist that he should have reacted maturely, or not at all, and I agree. His reaction was abhorrent, enough that Elisabeth Hasselback decried it as “verbal rape” (I have no idea what Hasselback was thinking — to equate being insulted on Twitter as anything like being raped is a slap in the face to rape victims and a disservice to women. But hey, it’s easy to use hyperbole to evoke immediate hatred.)
Here’s the thing — he DID ignore her — for a long time. Below is a partial list of things Johnson posted over the course of over a year, ostensibly — according to the media — in the name of comedy. While the graphic may be difficult to read, it definitely shows the scale of her attack:
How long was Brown supposed to wait before replying? Johnson, at the time of the incident, had around 250,000 followers, who regularly retweeted, responded to, and favorited her insults. Brown would have seen a barrage of slurs on a regular basis, and likely eventually lost his temper like any petulant 23 year-old male, reacting using the only fighting words he knew. Johnson, being smarter and quicker-witted, did indeed shame him. In the process she garnered something like 100,000 followers, and moved from the Twitter page to the front page — but at what cost? While Brown’s attack on Rihanna in 2009 used his strength horribly, Johnson came at him with both her verbal barbs and large following as a weapon. While I would never equate an attack on Twitter with the violence perpetrated by Brown, Johnson did assault Brown in a manner against which he could not defend himself. I am in no way attempting to excuse Chris Brown’s misogynistic behavior, however Jenny Johnson’s response of repeated cyber-bullying is not something to be celebrated. Perhaps fittingly, a Google search today revealed this, which would hardly be the quote I would most like associated with my name:
Predictably, the media’s reaction has been one-sided. Rather than recognizing that two wrongs don’t make a right and calling it what it is — an immature stupid kid responding to a vindictive and obsessive woman who insulted him publicly and regularly for almost two years — they turned it into further indictments against Brown. By glorifying Johnson’s attacks, we support the idea that if you don’t like something, publicly attack it, and even achieve fame for it. Even worse, they have portrayed Johnson as the victim, despite that at no point did she ever portray herself as such. In fact, quite the contrary, taken from the same Paper Mag interview:
What would happen if you met Chris Brown?
Oh god, I’d probably run for the hills. He replied to a tweet once. I was proud that after six months of harassing the guy, all my hard work paid off.
The takeaway from all this is that we — and the media — believe cyber-bullying to be a terrible thing, unless it’s against someone we happen to dislike. And the worst part about all the back-and-forth insults? They’re not even funny. Ok I did think it was funny when she corrected his spelling of “HOE,” and he later used her corrected version of “HO” while the hostilities continued to fly, but that’s it dammit!
The twist behind all this, is that really, neither Chris Brown nor Kim Kardashian are the true targets of this rage. They are the embodiments of a greater anger that cannot be truly targeted, which is a fury at the people who have allowed Brown and Kardashian to flourish in the public eye despite their failings. There are thousands of horrible men who hit women, yet none of them were campaigned against by Twitter users with hundreds of thousands of followers. There are millions of penniless people who hate Kim Kardashian, yet it is this very attention which fuels her popularity. Even my writing this article adds to their continued presence in the media, however as much as I’d love Chris Brown to fade into obscurity, I am appalled that a repugnant, sophomoric exchange between him and Johnson is being heralded as a victory for feminism. No matter how much we despise Chris Brown for his reprehensible acts in 2009, his sexist response to Jenny Johnson’s repeated malicious insults does not make her a victim, and we should not celebrate her bullying. In truth, the only way to fight the Browns and Kardashians of the world is take advice from a 5 year-old, and to ignore them, ignore them til they go away.
TL;DR - Repeatedly insulting someone is poor comedy. See pictures below.
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